Friday, November 25, 2011

Exegetical notes on Galatians 3:15-29


Text

15 Ἀδελφοί, κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω· ὅμως ἀνθρώπου κεκυρωμένην διαθήκην οὐδεὶς ἀθετεῖ ἐπιδιατάσσεται. 16 τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ ἐρρέθησαν αἱ ἐπαγγελίαι καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ. οὐ λέγει· καὶ τοῖς σπέρμασιν, ὡς ἐπὶ πολλῶν ἀλλʼ ὡς ἐφʼ ἑνός· καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου, ὅς ἐστιν Χριστός. 17 τοῦτο δὲ λέγω· διαθήκην προκεκυρωμένην ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ τετρακόσια καὶ τριάκοντα ἔτη γεγονὼς νόμος οὐκ ἀκυροῖ εἰς τὸ καταργῆσαι τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν. 18 εἰ γὰρ ἐκ νόμου κληρονομία, οὐκέτι ἐξ ἐπαγγελίας· τῷ δὲ Ἀβραὰμ διʼ ἐπαγγελίας κεχάρισται θεός.
19 Τί οὖν νόμος; τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη, ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ἐπήγγελται, διαταγεὶς διʼ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου. 20 δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, δὲ θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν. 21 οὖν νόμος κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν [τοῦ θεοῦ]; μὴ γένοιτο. εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος δυνάμενος ζῳοποιῆσαι, ὄντως ἐκ νόμου ἂν ἦν δικαιοσύνη· 22 ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν, ἵνα ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.
23 Πρὸ τοῦ δὲ ἐλθεῖν τὴν πίστιν ὑπὸ νόμον ἐφρουρούμεθα συγκλειόμενοι εἰς τὴν μέλλουσαν πίστιν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι, 24 ὥστε νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμῶν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν, ἵνα ἐκ πίστεως δικαιωθῶμεν· 25 ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς πίστεως οὐκέτι ὑπὸ παιδαγωγόν ἐσμεν. 26 Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· 27 ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε. 28 οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ· πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς εἷς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 29 εἰ δὲ ὑμεῖς Χριστοῦ, ἄρα τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ σπέρμα ἐστέ, κατʼ ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι.

Translation

15 Brothers, I speak in respect of human affairs: likewise[1] no-one sets aside or adds a codicil to a ratified human contract. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed; it does not say ‘and to seeds’, as in the case of many, but as in the case of one, ‘and to your seed[2]’, which is Christ. 17 this is what I mean: the covenant[3] previously-ratified by God, the law[4] having come after 430 years does not nullify – unto the destroying the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is of law, it is no longer of promise: but God showed grace to Abraham through [the] promise.
19 Why then the law? it was added because of transgression, until the seed to which it was promised might come, mediated through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one. 21 Is then the Law against the promises [of God]? Not so! For if a law were given, one that was able to make alive, righteousness would truly be by law; 22 but the Scripture shut all things up under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ be given to those that believe.
23 Before the coming of faith we were held in custody under law, shut up until the coming faith be revealed, 24 so that the law became our pedagogue until Christ, so that we might be justified by faith; 25 but with the coming of faith we are no longer under a pedagogue. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus; 27 for as many [of you] were baptised into Christ, you were clothed in Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male and female; for you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 and if you are of Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.

Comments

Silva’s historical redemptive take is explicit in the way he connects 3:6-14 to 3:15, and the introduction of the term διαθήκη.[5] Almost directly contrary to this, Martyn links 3:15 with Paul’s apocalyptic and anti-redemptive historical argument. For Martyn, the reference in v15 to διαθήκη is a secularises reference, a move to disassociate the word from the Judaisers' use of it in Mosaic terms, and part of Paul’s argument to align διαθήκη with the promise to Abraham. Key to Martyn’s argument is that the analogy of an alteration to the will is illustrated in v19 by the giving of the Law through angels. For Martyn’s Paul, the Law is an angelic addition seeking to alter the prior promise of God.
However the suggestion that Paul employs διαθήκη in a purely secular sense in v15 is severely open to question. Given the context of Paul’s own argument and background, it’s difficult to see how Paul could try and secularise and detheologise the term at exactly this point alone.
            The citation in 3:16 forms the hermeneutical crux of the passage, and casts it in distinctively redemptive-historical terms. At least, that seems obvious, but Martyn argues that this particular verse is the death-knell to a redemptive historical reading. Martyn grounds this is Paul’s punctiliar and singular understanding of τὸ σπέρμα, over against the Teachers’ linear and corporate reading.[6] And yet, once you connect the distinct singularity of the seed in v16, with the corporate and incorporated reading of the same in 3:26-29, it is hard to maintain that Paul’s reading is only individual. Indeed, 3:15-29 continues Paul’s argument about who οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ Ἀβρααμ are, οἱ ἐκ πίστεως contra οἱ κατὰ σάρκα. The language of promise in 3:16 implies fulfilment, which rests upon a temporal distance, and thus a historical trajectory. That Paul sees that summarily instanced in the singular Christ is by no means a defeater for a salvation history reading.
            With regards to the citation that Paul employs, he is primarily referring to Genesis 13:15 and 17:8, but in regards to the singularity of the seed reference, the final and summative set of promises that Abraham receives comes in Genesis 22:17, “he shall possess the gates of his [sg] enemies”.
3:17 then does not simply pit the inferiority of the Covenant against the Promise, but relativises the Covenant by its temporal sequencing after the Promise. That is, the Covenant can only be understood with attention to its posteriority to the Promise, which conditions how exactly the Covenant may be understood. Paul’s argument depends upon the sequencing of salvation history.
Martyn, to be fair, is not without real insights into the text at this point. For example, he highlights the way in which the motif of transferring or entering into the people of God is probably more the theological language of the Judaisers, not Paul, and that in Galatians Paul speaks repeatedly of who the blessing comes to the Gentiles, that it is the God-directed invasion of the cosmos, not the ‘human movement into blessedness’ that is the focus.[7] And yet, even if entry language is being taken from the Judaisers, Paul redefines and re-employs their terms, so that while it is God who is the agent of blessedness, there is an incorporation motif operating for Paul, incorporation into the Christ, not under the Law.
Silva highlights the distinct chronological references ἄχρις (3.19), πρό (23), ἐφὅσον χρόνον (4.1), ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου (4:4), and relates this to (at least) 3 epochs of history: Promise, Law (Sinai -> Christ), Faith.[8] This, if ever there was, is a redemptive-historical scheme, and Paul’s precise point is not to abstract Law and pit it against Promise & Faith, in a kind of conceptual conflict, but to re-align the redemptive historical place of Law over against the Teachers’ placement of the same.
The effect of v18 is to marginalise the Law’s role in salvation history. If the Law had the function the Judaisers are attributing to it, as the basis of the inheritance, then this would effectually undermine the promises as promises; the fact that Abraham was shown grace by God through promise and not Law, establishes the counter-factuality of the Judaisers’ interpretation. This naturally raises the question of why the Law, which is framed as a redemptive-historical question.
3:19, then, is an answer to that redemptive-historical question, not merely an abstract question about why the Law at all. Paul’s answer is three-fold, giving a purpose (τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν), a temporal telos (ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ἐπήγγελται), and a comparative point with the Promise (διαταγεὶς διʼ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου.) In reverse order, the point of comparison cannot be read as Martyn does, as if the Law were the work of angels contra God, and so offering some kind of false promise to Israel. This would destroy all integrity in Paul’s use of the Law both in Galatians and his other letters. Rather, the comparison has the object of subjugating the Law to the Promise, by pointing out its dual mediation (angels, Moses), against the unilateral and direct nature of the Promise spoken by God to Abraham.
The second element also subordinates the Law, by giving it a temporal frame that finds its fulfilment, not purely in its own terms, but in terms of the prior-existing Promise and the Seed. Thus the pattern of Promise-Fulfilment encloses, includes, and concludes the Law. This of course raises the very first question and answer-clause, why the Law at all? Fung understands this, and I agree, as making sin ‘illegal’.[9] It matches the slavery and confinement language of 3:22ff.
The enigmatic verse, “Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one” requires some kind of redemptive-historical interpretation, given the strongly redemptive-historical focus of the verses before and after. The Law involves a somebody giving something to a somebody else; there is an ‘external’ movement in the covenant dimension. In relation to God, the movement of the covenant is humanward, but this functions alongside another ‘covenant’ which is entirely within God’s being, i.e. between the Father and the Son, the divine Son incorporating and uniting humanity within his two natures  in the one person. The mediatorial yet oneness of this covenantal relationship implies a superiority to it, compared to virtually all Pentateuchal passages dealing with the presence of God, which involve mediation through angels. There is something abundantly ‘one-sided’ about the promise which does not have its counterpart in the (Sinai) covenant.
Further reflection on the salvation-historical place of the Law continues in 3:21, with the rhetorical question about whether the law is κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν? If Paul’s point were purely antagonistic, the answer would have to be affirmative. Martyn takes the very question as proof of the strong and ‘genuine antimony’ between law and Promise in Paul.[10] But surely Paul’s emphatic denial of the opposition is not merely about the ‘effective opposition’, but whether the opposition is purposeful. Indeed, his answer in 21b denies to the Law an enlivening and justifying role. Paul’s point is precisely that the Law was not able to do it, because if it was it would have, but it doesn’t, therefore it can’t, (implied) therefore it wasn’t designed to do so. Paul’s aim here is to tackle head on the Judaisers’ version of salvation-history, in which the place of the Law is to give life and justify, with his gospel-driven alternative placement of the Law, which is not to give life and justify, but rather preparatory (however we understand the hemmed-in and παιδαγωγός language) until the coming of the promised Seed.
It is interesting that v22 introduces ‘the Scripture’ as the agent, rather than ‘the Law’, which shuts all things up under sin. Given Paul’s context, a reference to the Old Testament, and thus primarily the Law, is undeniable. Paul continues to locate the salvation-historical purpose of the Word of God, but this time broadens it, so that all things are under sin. In doing so Paul gives us a further insight into the place of sin within the sovereign and redemptive purposes of God. The reference to promise in the second half of the verse should be taken to refer to the, by now, broad encompassing promise given to Abraham, which, by faith in Jesus, finds its reception among believers. The so-called ‘redundancy’ of the double use of faith does not require the first use to be taken as ‘faithfulness of Christ.’
The same thought is continued and reiterated in v24, as the Law gives way in salvation history until the time of Christ. In antiquity, the pedagogus is a slave who makes sure the boy gets an education, he is not a tutor at all; rather, he is a kind of educational bouncer, taking the boy to school and sitting at the back and making sure he goes home and does his homework. The Lutheran existential school-master interpretation does not work here, particularly since Galatians works with a fairly clear Jew/Gentile distinction that does not allow the application that the Law teaches Gentiles in order to lead them to Christ. A boy who had reached adulthood would not hang around his pedagogue, it would have suspect connotations. Thus, to go back under the pedagogue would be childish, stupid, and a little creepy. Yet with v25, ‘adulthood’ has come, and in terms of a different metaphor, ‘slavery’ is done with. Those who exhibit faith in Jesus are no longer children, no longer slaves, and so are no longer to live as such.
This is the thought that leads into vv26-29, and returns Paul to the question of who the sons of Abraham are (3:7) which is here re-configured as the sons of God. Adoption into Abraham’s family is adoption into God’s family and in both cases is instrumentally through faith, and objectively in Christ. The connection in v27 is to express this in terms of baptism and ‘clothing’. The close connection within the New Testament between faith and baptism should not be diminished, insofar as baptism is the ordinary, consequent, public, incorporating sign of (repentance and) faith. For Paul, it is simply normal to equate those who have faith in Jesus with those baptised in Christ, and this extends to the clothing metaphor. Those who are sons of God are clothed with this new identity. The outcome of such clothing is a radical alteration of the status of the believer, as expressed in v28. So constitutive of the new identity is its in-Christ nature, that the former distinctions are rendered abolished both (a) as making any difference in regards to entrance and incorporation into Christ. That is, with regards to being in Christ, there is no difference of instrumentality in becoming in Christ, and no difference in regards to status within the believing community, on the basis of (formerly) being a Jew or a Gentile. This is the primary distinction that has been operative within the discourse of the epistle, but Paul extends it further to the social distinction between slaves and free citizens, no doubt in part because slavery has been a part of this discourse both metaphorically and literarily-historically. Furthermore, Paul applies this abolition of distinction to gender identity as well.
Some have pushed v28 as the basis for an abolition of difference as a factor of identity at all, particularly in the gender and ministry debates. There are several problems with this approach. Firstly, it pays scant attention to the context of Paul’s argumentation within Galatians, which does not deal with either ministry roles or ethical instruction in regards to role differentiation at all. Secondly, it creates a canonical inconsistency within Paul’s literary corpus that is difficult to reconcile without violating canonical integrity. Simply put, Paul elsewhere uses exactly such differences, both slave and free, and male and female, as the basis for applying the same ethical principles in differentiated application. For example, Paul is prepared to use “God is our Master” as the principle that informs the pattern for both earthly masters (fair and just treatment, Col 4:1), as well as earthly slaves (Eph 6:5).
Paul’s argument, then, is about status, identity, and entry into Christ, not about ontological existence. One is ‘in Christ’ as a Jew or as a Greek, as a male or as a female, as a free citizen or as a slave, but one’s primary identity in Christ is determined by that very being in Christ. At the same time one does not cease to possess these idiomata, and to live out that unity and equality in Christ in terms of the diversity of human existence.
This oneness in Christ leads Paul in his flow of thought back to the assertion that to be in Christ (v27-28), is to be a son of God (v26), is to be Abraham’s descendant. The fact that Paul has shifted back here to a ‘plural’ understanding of ‘seed’ should not mislead us to conclude inconsistency on his behalf. Paul is fully aware of the plural interpretation and that the very word seed can function as singular for collective, but the whole thrust of his argument in this respect has been to assert the individual nature of the seed as the basis for understanding the corporate fulfilment of the promise in terms of incorporation into the one heir. It is only in Christ that, Jews and Gentiles alike, believers are heirs to the promise. There’s nowhere else to be except in Christ; to impose Law is to step outside the blessing[11], and bring people under curse, and it’s a perverse thing to do.


[1] used to introduce comparisons;
[2] singular
[3] object
[4] subject
[5] Silva, 804.
[6] Martyn, 347-8.
[7] Martyn, 348-9.
[8] Silva, 805.
[9] Fung interprets the χάριν phrase as giving a purpose rather than causal basis, suggesting that the sense is ‘to make wrongdoing a legal offence’.
[10] Martyn, 358.
[11] What is the blessing? Justification (3:6-9) and the Spirit (3:14).

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